Scottish Daily Mail
Debauchery, drugs, champagne parties and the legal elite behind a sinister child sex ring
As third lawyer is linked to sex probe, a shocking picture emerges of a depraved network of abusers at the heart of Scottish society...
ONE cold Edinburgh night in January 1993, a dapper QC named Lawrence Nisbet attended a party at the lavish home of fellow silk and well-known bon viveur raymond Morris Fraser. Fraser was moving out of the capital’s grand Bonaly Tower, once home to the legendary 19th century judge and drinker Lord Cockburn – and a party of bacchanalian proportions was thrown to mark the occasion. A bath, guarded by a fierce-looking stuffed crocodile, was filled with ice and champagne.
Edinburgh’s legal elite – judges, QCs and advocates – mingled and caroused. As well as Nisbet, a high-flying pillar of the city’s legal establishment, they would have included robert Henderson, the dazzlingly brilliant QC, and Nicholas Fairbairn, the flamboyant MP and one-time favourite of Margaret Thatcher.
The timing was intriguing. Later that month, William Nimmo-Smith, another QC who later became Lord Nimmo-Smith, was due to publish his report into an alleged ‘magic circle’ of judges, sheriffs and advocates who, it had been suggested, were conspiring to ensure that homosexual criminals were given soft-touch treatment by the courts.
There had been allegations of senior judges in this magic circle being blackmailed by rent boys. Documents relating to the case had been stolen from Lothian and Borders Police’s Fettes headquarters the previous summer. It was the talk of the town.
None of that seemed to matter, though, to the guests at Bonaly Tower. Instead, they drank and partied away the hours. The binge lasted two days.
Shortly afterwards, Nisbet, aged only 45, was dead. The cause was recorded as chronic alcoholism, although the obituaries of the day discreetly said he had died of a heart attack.
This week, more than 20 years on, allegations have emerged that Nisbet abused a six-year-old child. They came after a man who had known Nisbet in the 1980s contacted the Scottish Daily Mail to say he believed the lawyer was a child molester.
Upon being told of the accusations, Nisbet’s horrified former wife Susan said: ‘It makes me want to throw up.’
That Nisbet lived a life of excess is not in doubt. The legal pack he ran with – which included Henderson and former Solicitor General Fairbairn – were prodigious drinkers and debaters, leading lights of the Edinburgh legal establishment who were well known in the 1970s and 1980s for playing as hard as they worked. They knew each other both inside and out of the courtroom, were as used to sparring across the floor of the court as the end of the bar and prided themselves as the sharpest legal minds of their generation.
Now, the dark underbelly of the murky world these men inhabited is slowly coming to light. Last year, Henderson’s daughter Susie gave a shocking interview to the Mail in which she claimed she had been raped by Fairbairn at the age of four. She also accused her father of repeatedly raping and abusing her, often at lavish, private house parties held in their smart Edinburgh home.
During that interview, Miss Henderson gave the Mail the names of six other senior members of the Scottish legal profession, two of whom are still alive, who either abused her or were aware of the abuse. One of those names was Lawrence Nisbet.
Since then, a major police investigation into her allegations has been launched. A second victim came forward late last year. The inquiry has now been widened to include the latest allegations against Nisbet, which involve a third victim. Decades later, what is emerging, piece by horrifying piece, is evidence not so much of a magic circle, but a paedophile ring. FAIRBAIRN, Henderson’s best friend, was a self-styled eccentric who dressed in blue baronial tartan adorned with two miniature ( working) silver revolvers, which he would load with blanks and fire when drunk. The man who had been a trusted member of Mrs Thatcher’s i nner circle ( he once informed her that he had ‘always fancied’ her, to which she responded: ‘Quite right Nicholas, you have very good taste’) was well-known for his excess.
As Solicitor General, he apparently insisted on having colour copies made of the goriest crime scene photographs – particularly of horrifically butchered women. He would then pass these around with the brandy and cigars at dinner parties at Fordell Castle, the crumbling pile in Fife he had restored, and where he lived with his longsuffering wife Lady Sam.
Last year, documents revealed Fairbairn had attended the notorious Elm Guest House in London, a haunt for paedophiles in the early 1980s where youngsters from children’s homes were allegedly sexually assaulted by highprofile visitors. The papers said ‘Fairburn’ had ‘used boys in sauna’ and photos had been taken of him – as well as former Liberal MP Cyril Smith – at the guest house. Police have confirmed that Smith, a known paedophile, was a regular visitor to the address.
It was during raucous parties at Henderson’s house in Heriot row that his daughter says she was abused, not just by her father, but by his friends.
‘My father had parties where I had to dance for people,’ she said. ‘He’d then put me in a bedroom. People came in. There was drugs, lots of drink. My dad used to give me drink.’
It was during one of these horrific encounters that Miss Henderson was raped by Fairbairn. She was only four years old. ‘The house was five floors and the top floor was where the guests used to stay. I was in bed in the guest room with Fairbairn and another guy.’
This week, further evidence of the set’s sordid lifestyle emerged when a retired police detective revealed that Henderson and Nisbet were interviewed by police investigating the disappearance of six-year- old Caroline Hogg because of their connection with a known paedophile.
While there was never any question either man had a connection to the girl’s disappearance, it shines a further light on their antics. The paedophile, who has not been named, used the pair as an alibi when questioned by detectives, saying all three had been at a brothel at the time the little girl – who
was murdered by serial killer Robert Black – disappeared.
Miss Henderson said she remembered her father flashing around a business card for an Edinburgh brothel.
Nisbet, for all his seedy side, was a dyed-in-the-wool member of the Edinburgh establishment. An Edinburgh University graduate, he was called to the Scottish Bar in 1972, where he formed a partnership with Lionel Daiches, a distinguished and flamboyant QC who was often compared to his friend Fairbairn.
Daiches had returned to the Bar after being forced to resign as a sheriff in the mid-1960s when he was caught drink- driving and a friendly judge dismissed the case rather than take away his licence.
Nisbet was often Daiches’ junior in High Court trials and the two were drinking buddies.
Professionally, Nisbet was perhaps best known for interrupting his Italian holiday in 1982 to try to free Scottish nanny Carole Compton, who had been accused of witchcraft.
She had been working as a live-in nanny i n Italy, but the f amily claimed that, after she moved in, strange things started occurring in the house. A fire burned through a mattress and small religious statues were found broken on the floor. After a fire consumed a three-yearold’s cot, the family called the police and accused Miss Compton of arson and attempted murder.
She claimed she had no idea what was happening and maintained her innocence. She was held for 16 months without trial, until Nisbet intervened, saying that ‘if it wasn’t for the satanic obsession of the Italians, she would have been out by now’. She was eventually freed.
Nisbet married twice. He divorced first wife Anne in 1985, after less than six years of marriage.
In 1990 he married Susan Ridings, who was also divorced. He had no children.
BY the time Nisbet died, his group’s glory days were over. Fairbairn – who after being removed as Solicitor General took to complaining, and drinking, copiously, in the House of Commons bars – died two years later of cirrhosis of the liver. Lady Thatcher read the eulogy at his funeral.
Four years later, when anonymous allegations about his abuse of Miss Henderson, then known as Julie X, emerged, senior Tories, including Sir Malcolm Rifkind, rallied to his defence.
Henderson – a QC so brilliant that Lord McCluskey once said of him: ‘It was a joy when Bob walked into court and announced he was appearing as counsel f or the defence. The lights seemed to shine a little brighter.’ – died in relative obscurity in France in 2012.
He had left Edinburgh in some disgrace after being charged in 1999 for non-payment of VAT. Miss Henderson says that after the first Julie X allegations against Fairbairn and her father (then unnamed) emerged in 2000, he threatened her, saying he could ‘put her in the ground’.
Fraser, host of the infamous party and another of Daiches’ prodigies, also came to an unhappy end. His drinking became increasingly heavy and at a legal dinner in the Signet Library he fell 30ft over a banister.
He was suspended three times by the Faculty of Advocates for misdemeanours such as being drunk in court – one client watched in horror as he attempted to tender a guilty plea, only to have to inform the clearly inebriated Fraser that he wished to plead not guilty.
Fraser saw out his final years in poverty, living in a B&B, his name appearing only briefly in the headlines when he was charged for stealing silk cravats, a tie and a hat from Edinburgh store Jenners. He died in 2002.
Nisbet never lived to see the publication of the Nimmo-Smith report into the magic circle affair, in which his name was mentioned. It was published on the day of his funeral.
Some of those involved, including Henderson, went straight from the cemetery to the press conference at which it was declared there was no evidence of a conspiracy.
Perhaps not. But more than 20 years on, it would appear it was something much darker, and more dangerous, which bonded this group of powerful men together.